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I remember when I first met you. It was outside of the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn after a Phife Dawg benefit in 2010. It was the first time the Tribe had been together in God knows how long. You surprised a disappointed crowd (Ghostface cancelled) by performing “Just Begun” with Talib and Mos and then you did your smash record “Exhibit C.” I had already seen you do the latter at Mos Def’s show at Highline Ballroom a couple days prior. Til this day that Mos show on Martin Luther King Day back in 2010 is the greatest rap show I’ve ever been to. There was so much black excellence going on at once. Mos was playing drums, rapping, and singing with projections of black leaders in the background. You brought Diddy out to intro “Exhibit C” and basically tore shit down. The streets need that album. The game needs something realer. But I’m losing focus, back to the Knitting Factory.
You were standing in the middle of the sidewalk talking to two girls with your friend 20 Grand Pikaso. You were just how Erykah Badu described you in the forward to “Eternal Sunshine.” You’re a weird looking cat. I told you that I was a fan and how I’m up on some of the stuff you rap about. As you spoke to me you stuttered and I found that odd because your raps are so clear, but the way your eyes pierced through my soul I knew I was talking to someone special. You had this energy about you that's hard to explain. I had just got back on the scene a year after quitting my “job” at The Source and wanted to interview you for them. You gave me your number and BBM, but told me that we had to cover 20 Grand in order to get to you. I agreed. I then called you, hit your BBM, and texted you.
Your story was always intriguing to me. You were homeless, bounced around New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Richmond, Philly, NYC, among other places, and somehow came in contact with legends like J. Dilla and Ms. Badu.
You hit me back asking who I was, but when I answered you never hit me back. I felt like shit. I thought I approached you wrong, but I felt better once I learned that you pulled the same stunt on Elliott Wilson and again with Spin when they tried to profile you.
Your story was always intriguing to me. You were homeless, bounced around New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Richmond, Philly, NYC, among other places, and somehow came in contact with legends like J. Dilla and Ms. Badu. You also met a friend of mine on your journey. He filled in some holes for me as I prepared to write you this letter.
He met you on the streets of Virginia where you were speaking to yourself, saying, “the right of passage, I have the key, I have the key.” And you do have the keys. He told me you were a street preacher. That everything you do and say means something. The same could be said about your rapping.
The first song I heard of yours was “Exhibit A.” That fucking song gave me chills. Still does. The movie samples, Just Blaze’s production. Everything about that song is perfection. I first heard it sitting at my desk at The Source in 2009, a point in time where rap needed saving. This was a period when everything was transitioning to digital, record sales were plummeting, and autotune was dominating. I immediately turned to online editor Kazeem Famuyide and wanted him to stop what he was doing so he could hear it. I remember being upset that he wouldn’t listen to me and I would like to take credit for putting him on to you even though he won’t ever admit it.
You had me at: “Who gon’ bring the game back?/Who gon’ spit that Ramo on the train tracks?/That gold rope, that five-finger ring rap/Runnin' with my same pack/You can find the Christ where the lepers and lames at/Life is like a dice game/One roll could land you in jail or cutting cake/Blowing kisses in the rice rain/Nice whip, nice chain, a closet of skulls/The stench is like slave blood at Providence Hall”
I couldn’t contain myself. I scoured Demonoid (RIP) and the Internet for whatever music you had out there. I came across Attack of the Clones, Scratches & Demo Tape Vol. 1, a bunch of random songs, and one of the greatest tapes of all time, the Style Wars EP.
First of all, you were rapping over Dilla beats on Style Wars which made me smile because, like many others, Jay Dee changed my life. And when the tape got to “So What You Saying” I fucking lost it. I turned to my brother and said, verbatim: “This nigga just said, ‘Down south they call me white man cause I hang MCs.’” What? Who says that type of shit? I knew at that point that you were going to flip the rap game on its head. We were yearning for that real shit. That shit that touched the hearts and minds of the ghetto. You sounded like Pac. Every line meant something. And it was weird because your flow doesn’t come across as intricate at first listen. It’s slow, calculated, and yet you said things that made me run to Google. I started reading Kurt Vonnegut and researching Clarence 13X because of you.
Once you dropped “Exhibit C” and had everyone going crazy, you turned that momentum into a deal with Roc Nation. I was worried at first because Hov didn’t have a great track record when it came to heading a label with rappers under him without the help of Dame and Biggs. But then you leaked “The Announcement” and “Shiny Suit Theory.” The JFK speech at the beginning of "The Announcement" pointed to where you were headed. You were going to the moon. The beat is dark, the rhymes confident. You were in position to take over. Secondly, the fact that you had Jigga rapping his ass off on "Shiny Suit Theory" made me believe that this partnership was going to work. But I was wrong.
You disappeared. Maybe it was because you were scared of the ladder you built for yourself. Or you wanted no parts of the fame. Only you know the answer to that. Now you’re this mythical figure, a throwback to the days free of social media and the Internet. You delete tweets, pop up every now and then on a feature, and made the news for allegedly breaking up a billion-dollar marriage. You have the fans waiting four long years for your debut album, yet it seems as if you couldn’t care less.
No mainstream rapper is talking about our children getting shot like cattle or how we're packed in prisons. Your style of rap wasn’t supposed to make it on the radio but you managed to do it without a deal with “Exhibit C."
The rap game is more balanced these days with cats taking advantage of the web instead of relying on bullshit 360 deals. But we still need that “F.O.I., Marcus Garvey, Nikky Tesla.” The majority of these rappers are still too worried about flossing and their image. No mainstream rapper is talking about our children getting shot like cattle or how we're packed in prisons. Your style of rap wasn’t supposed to make it on the radio but you managed to do it without a deal with “Exhibit C."
Your voice gave power to kids like me that survived hell. There’s a realness that only a few can match. You remind me of Guru, always dropping jewels in your rhymes. After Kendrick out-shined you and Big Sean on “Control” the game said you were done, that your time had passed but I truly believe that your train is still running on schedule. You spit about the infinite. Your raps are like the Bible to me. Every time I listen to some of your shit I take something different away from it. You're more of a poet and a philosopher than you are a rapper. Your sound is timeless.
Now you started coming back around. You popped up at SXSW and gave us “Better In Tune With The Infinite.” That track is so beautiful. I get more emotional with every listen. Very few artists are able to touch people the way you do. Then you got Jigga to hop on "We Made It." You had him sounding hungry, talking that pro black shit, and he even took a shot at Drake. Even if the effort felt lackluster to some, you guys had the Internet jumpin'. Drake fans were defensive, cats were debating who went harder, and you quenched your fans' thirst a bit by spittin' that Farrakhan rap. I hope this means that the album is finally coming. We’ve been waiting for someone like you since Big and Pac died (no disrespect to Hov and Nas, but the game has been lacking.)
Just drop Act II like Beyonce did. In the middle of the night. We’re in the darkness and need light.
For your next trick, tell Justin to let that track you have with Drake go (me and my roommate have a couple Taormina pizzas with his name on 'em.)
Angel Diaz (@ADiaz456) is a Staff Writer for Complex.